Oklahoma football: Where does Steve Davis rank?
Whenever I rank OU quarterbacks, I never rate Steve Davis all that high. Same with Jimmy Harris. Sort of strange when you think about it.
Davis went 32-1-1 as the Sooner quarterback. Harris went 25-0. A combined 59 games as the Sooner quarterbacks, with one loss total. In the contemporary atmosphere, Davis and Harris would have been Heisman Trophy contenders. Instead, neither even made all-conference.
You can look it up. The all-Big Eight quarterbacks during Davis’ years were Kansas’ David Jaynes in 1973, Nebraska’s David Humm in 1974 and Kansas’ Nolan Cromwell in 1975.
The all-Big Seven quarterbacks in Harris’ time were Colorado’s Carroll Hardy in 1954 and Missouri’s Jim Hunter in 1956. No quarterback was selected in 1955.
So it’s not just me. Back when they played, Davis and Harris were not heralded as transcendent players.
There are reasons for that. Some valid, some not. Certainly, both played on OU teams so packed with stars, that even the quarterback could get lost in the shadows.
Harris played with a linebacker, Kurt Burris, who finished second in the 1954 Heisman voting. Then he played with a lineman, Bo Bolinger, who placed ninth in the 1955 Heisman voting. Finally, Harris played with teammates, halfback Tommy McDonald and linebacker Jerry Tubbs, who finished 3-4 in an incredibly tight Heisman vote.
Davis played with the Selmon brothers and Joe Washington. In Davis’ three seasons as the quarterback, 14 of his teammates made all-American. Go back and read that sentence again. Fourteen! All-conference selectors were looking for reasons to vote off Sooners.
But why Davis? Why the natural tendency to elevate Thomas Lott or J.C. Watts or Jamelle Holieway over Davis?
I was a big Lott fan. Loved his bandana. Loved his smoothness. I loved J.C.’s name and his flair for late-game dramatics. Nebraska 1980. The Florida State Orange Bowl II. And Holieway was an absolute magician running the wishbone.
I generally pick Jack Mildren as OU’s greatest quarterback ever. He set passing records as a sophomore and rushing records as a senior. Mildren oversaw the mid-season transformation of the Sooners from floundering offense to wishbone wizards, which changed college football for a generation. Jason White and Sam Bradford won Heismans, but I would be hard-pressed to move out from Mildren from the No. 1 slot.
The last time I rated OU quarterbacks, this was my list: 1. Jack Mildren; 2. Josh Heupel; 3. Jason White; 4. Sam Bradford; 5. Jack Mitchell; 6. Eddie Crowder; 7. Jack Jacobs; 8. Jamelle Holieway; 9. J.C. Watts; 10. Jimmy Harris.
But Davis’ death Sunday in a plane crash has given all kinds of people pause to examine their memories and Davis’ career.
Statistically, Harris doesn’t measure up to the other great quarterbacks. Even of the ‘50s. You have to go with the intangibles on Harris, which are many. But in 1955, for example, Harris started every game and didn’t even lead the Sooners in passing. McDonald did, out of his halfback position.
Yet Davis carried no such statistical shortcoming. Davis rushed for at least 100 yards more times than Lott, Danny Bradley and Kerry Jackson. Combined. More times than Watts, Darrell Shepard and Dave Robertson. Combined.
Holieway ran for at least 100 yards 10 times in his OU career. Mildren did it nine times. Lott and Charles Thompson eight each. But Davis cracked the 100-yard barrier 11 times, the most of any OU wishbone quarterback. And Davis did it against heavyweights. Nebraska three times. Southern Cal in 1973. Missouri in 1975, which is remembered for Washington’s great heroics in the fourth quarter, but in which Davis rushed 16 times for 135 yards.
And did OU ever have a more clutch passer than Davis? Mildren, who actually was a wishbone quarterback for only 21 of his 34 career games, leads all OU wishbone quarterbacks with 24 touchdown passes. Holieway had 22. Davis had 21.
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